For Sofia Barros, travelling is an act of humility, involving the people she meets and the enormity of nature that is extended to ther work in the arts.
his love of travel comes from my parents, who have always wanted to know more”, Sofia tells us, seated in a Lisbon café, nursing a glass of white wine. She and her sister Teresa have had “unique adventures ever since we were little”. “It’s influenced our way of seeing, being and living. It sounds kitsch, but memories are the bedrock of our lives.” As a child, she remembers going to the Caribbean and seeing “a giant sea cucumber, among multicoloured coral and fish. Something I’ll never forget!”, she laughs. Or going to Mato Grosso, in Brazil, with her parents and meeting an anthropologist who took her to meet the isolated Xavante tribe: “He was talking to the chief, while I stayed with the children. There was a language barrier, but I started to mimic the strange sounds of the capybaras, which are their pets, and they were in stitches! It was an unbelievable experience. Travel opens your eyes to things you would never have known existed.”
She chose the arts “because of my love for colour”. She always looks for it, believing that “they say a lot about people” and inspire her to paint. That’s why she likes walking and walking, “I choose the streets with fewer people. That’s where the discoveries are, which is why we travel, right? There’s always a hidden surprise or something fascinating that stays with us”. A year ago, she travelled to Burma with a friend and walked for four days, “from morning to sunset; we stopped to say hello to people, we helped pick tea leaves, we had dinner in the houses of local people. I loved it. It was a dream come true. Of course, there are political problems, but it’s one of the most peaceful places I’ve been to. The people are genuine and generous.” What she likes most is blending in. “There are lots of touristy things you have to do, because they’re important and beautiful. You can’t go to Paris and not visit the Louvre. But travelling is essentially about getting off the beaten path and talking to people on the street, messing around. For me, that’s getting to know a culture, with respect, because you travelled from an ocean away to see a country, you know?”. Once, in southern Italy, she swapped busy beaches for a solitary walk through a fishing village. She sat down next to “an old man who was making gorgeous beautiful baskets and we chatted about life for hours. It made my day and he was so touched (we take older people for granted; we should listen to their wisdom). Talking to people is essential, it gives you a much more profound experience of the place. It’s important to be kind.”
Her suitcase is “less is more, light and practical: having less, but the essential, such as the health part sorted out”. She doesn’t shop, only if it’s “small things, a necklace, a piece of local handicraft. I mean, I brought avocados back from Burma, because they’re so different! And again, there was a man selling them in the middle of the Gorongosa mountains [Mozambique]. I don’t know how I didn’t get an upset stomach!”
Sofia works in art and environment. She studied visual communication and graphic design at OCAD in Toronto, and her career has been connected to lifestyle magazines, like Chatelaine, Style at Home and Canadian Gardening. She returned to Portugal and wanted to work outdoors: “Re-learn how to connect with nature and respect it. Art can act as a powerful warning.” She has exhibited works by foreign artists in the romantic gardens of Sintra’s Pena Palace and at Quinta do Pisão, a nature reserve in Cascais, where Will Beker created an interactive installation to attract families to nature, or a trail for the blind. After the fires that devastated Portugal, Stuart Ian Frost created an intervention with a eucalyptus tree that had died from lack of water. “They teach me a lot about the humility and intelligence of nature, which we can learn so much from”. Her curiosity about animals and plants grows by the day: “It’s like I’m going back to my roots. My grandfather was a doctor. He worked in Africa and studied natural medicine to get a handle on diseases like leprosy or malaria; I still have his very personal notes. It must be one of the most precious things I have.”
What is travelling?
Sofia’s childhood was a bit nomadic. She was born in England, and now lives between Portugal and Canada: “When people ask me who I am, I don’t feel like I’m from any country. I have the good things from each one”, she smiles. She has the lightness of a world citizen: “Travelling provides great perspective. Sometimes we have small problems and make mountains out of molehills. When we travel, there’s so much new stuff going on that we become small in the grand scheme of things.” If you’re open to it, you learn other ways of being and seeing. “Yes. But it doesn’t matter how much you travel and how different your cultural background is, the essence of being human is what makes us similar; our emotions and insecurities, our dreams and goals. Travelling is everyone being connected and together in this world. I like meeting people and discovering cultures, trying new things, because everybody has unique adventures to share, and laughing together until we find something in common.” Is that what travelling means to you? “It’s growing as a person.”
by Patrícia Barnabé /// photo Luís Silva Campos
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